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COVID response blocks N. Korea aid efforts: US State Dept.

Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang. (AFP-Yonhap)
Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang. (AFP-Yonhap)
The US State Department said North Korea’s border shutdowns to combat the pandemic are preventing the country from receiving outside help from humanitarian aid groups.

“These severe measures have significantly hindered the efforts of humanitarian organizations, UN agencies, and other countries to deliver aid to those most in need after they received swift exemptions from the 1718 Committee,” the State Department told Voice of America on Sunday

The statement came in response to the South Korean unification minister’s suggestion that Seoul and Washington review sanctions and expand humanitarian assistance to Pyongyang.

“We need to expand the list of sanction exemptions, or we should be more flexible,” Unification Minister Lee In-young said in an interview with the Financial Times on Friday.

The US State Department said the border controls impede shipments and that it has already worked to streamline the process for sanctions exemptions, so that international aid groups could readily provide COVID relief.

“We are committed to continuing to review UN humanitarian exemption applications as quickly as possible,” it said.

The State Department added that the international community should be able to hold North Korea accountable for international aid to ensure it reaches the most vulnerable North Koreans. Some suspect that the regime is diverting aid to serve the interests of the ruling Kim family.

By Choi Si-young (